Priests and Protesters

Note: This is a draft [second draft]. The contents here may change or alter between now and publication.

Copyright 2023 Dax Murray All Rights Reserved

Content Note

This is a work of fiction. It contains depictions, scenes, and discussions of topics that some may want to avoid. Please read this list carefully. – Depictions of consensual sex, including consensual kink/bdsm, consensual sex work – Protests, riots, violence, police – Grief and death of a loved one – Torture, Rape, Arson – Domestic violence – Abortion, Dangerous childbirth/labor/delivery – Misogyny, Patriarchal religions

I have tried to make this list as exhaustive as possible, but I cannot know everyone's possible triggers and sensitivities. Please know that this book handles mature topics and themes.


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Chapter One

Caitlin does not want to leave Whick. The autumn air is warm and full of salt, and the quay is loud: as many ships making port as leaving. For a place where no one stays long, Caitlin wants to stay forever. Business, such as it is, changes far faster than most would like. Brocade is out of fashion before one can fill their shop with it; gold-trimmed flatware is yesterday’s fad before one can make their first sale. Her family’s business is not any different. Caitlin knows she should be happy about this change, and yet. It should satisfy her that her family’s business is so profitable now that they need a permanent placement at the capital.

Someone will have to go to Eoi to establish that new headquarters; to that city on the other side of Fayn, to that city where all that people speak of is the prince and his newest paramour; the merchants there talk of Lady Shennen Ahernn and how scandalous it is that Prince Cian is courting a Calla lady who is distantly related to the Suan noble family without their permission. The vendors ponder why he left that marquess, Lady Amelia Devlin. The traders there gossip about the Duchess of Clare, Lady Aelena, and why she once again snubbed a marriage proposal, this time to Lord Tynen Byrne, the Earl of Berach’s son. And, and, and… Information that is ultimately meaningless to Caitlin. But sometimes they do speak of more critical issues; how favorable the ambassador from Garcelon is in the eyes of the king; if tensions are still fraught with Janeuq; if the riots of the lower classes are impeding trade; if these uprisings are growing larger and more violent or are waning and now easily contained; if the recent death of a Tsvetokrasan noble was the work of mysterious assassin Fiadh Róisín? That city is so full of overt etiquette and comportment, but lurking beneath that is rumor and underhanded dealings that Caitlin knows she cannot navigate it, seeing as she spends much of her nights in taverns with sailors or traders with questionable obtainment methods. Or, at least, she used to. She used to go with xir and gamble and sing and drink.

A residence needs to be found and purchased. A decision needs to be made on who will live there. Living in a city where the buildings are brick, or sometimes marble, not limestone. Where half of the houses have elaborate crown molding of pure gold and the other half crumbling from neglect. All the documents for such will require reading and signing, enacting and enforcing. While Caitlin knows how to write a contract for selling and buying merchandise, she does not know how to navigate real estate. She has never had to. After she married, her fathers gifted her a small house. This purchase now involves an entire estate and office space. An estate is nothing like spider silk. No doubt, Caitlin will do these tasks. She stares out at the shores, the piers, the vast ocean on the horizon. The sights that do not exist in the city. The river that runs through Eoi cannot compare to the turquoise jewel she spends so much time admiring here in Whick.

She is leaving this port city, leaving the humid air on summer mornings, and the crack of lightning on spring nights. The stinging crispness of winter. The radiant sunsets in autumn: burning fire on water. She sets the documents down again and paces back and forth, running her hands through her hair, stitching them together behind her head. Her thoughts skit away from xir, xir name, xir face, xir scent. No, she tells herself. It is Whick that she does not want to leave; it is nearly thirty years of habits that she does not want to break; it is leaving behind the years of wishing to leave, the thoughts of a teenager dreaming of adventure. It is falling in love with this city after realizing there is no adventure beyond the gates. It is the comfort she has found in her small home. Her home. Their home.

“It is not about leaving xir,” she says aloud, only the scraggly tabby in the open window for an audience. The stray yawns, stretches and leaps outside. “It is not about leaving xir. There is no reason to want to stay only for xir. Shouldn’t I want to leave old ghosts behind?”

Old ghosts. Xir ghost. Though, Caitlin knows that xir people don’t believe in ghosts.

It is the closeness to her fathers, Teige and Rían of Peddigree Trading Company, having outgrown the desperation in her youth for them to leave her alone, to let her live her own life. But now she has learned to love her parents, in ways that are only learned after spending her teen years believing they were holding her back. They are the first people she goes to with a problem; both before xir, and now after xir.

She pounds her fists on the desk. No, it is not about xir. It cannot be about xir. Xie cannot be the reason Caitlin wants to stay; xie can’t be the reason; it makes no sense for xir to be the reason she wants to stay.

She can’t leave. She can’t live without xir. She will not live without xir.

It is not about xir.

It is the friendship Caitlin has found with all the regular sailors and merchants. Yes, that is the reason. Surely that is the reason. She wants to drink with these friends until the dawn, for fun… at least, at first. But then to drown out the memories.

She scrunches the papers in her hands and then incinerates them in her fireplace. It can’t be because of xir. Anyone in her position would want to leave this town of sorrow and memories.

There is a tradition in these ports. No one knows how it started. For being such a large port, there is not even a monument to the god Iden, so it is not a tradition of His. There is a fountain at the center of Whick with the shells and wave emblem of the goddess Muriel. Perhaps this tradition belongs to Her. Regardless of which god can claim this rite as theirs, it starts with still-wet shells collected at dusk. It requires small bowls forged with sands from the shore, filled with seawater on the night of a new moon. It ends with a song.

It isn’t because she wants to carry out this ceremony once a month, every month. Even the ones where the cold might freeze the water before she arrives at the grave. Xir grave. If she leaves this city, she can’t do that anymore. And that is a silly reason to not want to leave. So, it can’t be that.

Xie told Caitlin about the last rites for xir people. There is a cycle for xir people, and what happens at the end of this cycle. It starts with a child appearing at the base of a tree, a metal bracelet on their wrist. And later, a journey to shape that bracelet into something personal, something meaningful: a circlet of impossible, unearthly beauty to adorn their head. They call it ahnhörn. Magic and intuition; magic that only xir people know. Xie told Caitlin that when xir people die, they disappear back into the aclaere; the life force of the planet. And then they will be born again one day, again materializing from the currents of the aclaere at the base of a sacred tree. Xie told Caitlin how important it is that they go back when they hear the spirits say it is time to return to their birthplace. But Caitlin knows it is too late and carrying out this last rite is impossible. If she leaves, there will truly be no way to see this cycle to its end. But that is in the past, a truth that she has accepted. It can’t be because of that.

It is not because she won’t be able to carefully run her fingers over the indented words; the letters spelling out xir name, and the numbers the day xie died. The day her wife died. It is not because she doesn’t want to leave the home they shared, to pretend every night that she doesn’t hear xir close the door gently behind xir when xie comes home, pretend she can still find xir fingerprints on the mirrors, xir warmth on the pillow next to hers. That is not the reason she cannot leave.

She must let her fathers know that she wishes to stay here, that she will not be moving, and provide a list of candidates for the new role in Eoi.

She cannot leave this place. But it has nothing to do with xir. It has nothing to do with Brenna. Her Brenna. The beautiful Ástfríður she called her wife.

She collapses into her desk chair, dips her pen into a nearly empty ink bowl, and lets her fathers know that she will start planning for her move to Eoi promptly.


The townhouse is larger than her home, but it feels claustrophobic. She feels hemmed in, as though the walls are shrinking in on her. She deemed it more efficient to furnish it when she arrived than to move all of her belongings with her. A sly lie to herself, that. She left her home just as it always had been, frozen in the single moment before she got that letter from her fathers; that letter that led her here. Locked in time until she returns. She brought only a few trinkets with her; Brenna’s ahnhörn included. If she could not carry it back to xir birthplace, Caitlin could at least keep it with her. Hidden. Safe.

Her fathers say they will keep the house clean, free of dust and mold. She wanted to refuse them. She wants the air inside to have been air Brenna might have breathed, the stray hairs in the carpet, ones that might have been xirs. With each cleaning, a little of xir is being cleared out. Caitlin couldn’t share these thoughts; not wanting to dwell on them longer than she had to, embarrassed for even having them.

“Follow me, and I will show you the kitchen,” Rían, her ‘Pa’, says. A winter storm had rolled in as Caitlin had arrived. The coachman had mentioned that winter comes late in Eoi, but when it does, it rolls in fiercely. The townhome is chilly as her fathers give her the tour, and she wonders how long it will take for the hearth to warm her new dwelling.

It is different, and living in that difference, rather than appraising it, is uncomfortable. This is not her warm hearth; it is not her—their—soft bed. It isn’t a home to Caitlin. Business has had her stay overnight in various inns across Fayn. That was temporary; that was a night or two; always knowing that there is a home waiting. Brenna was waiting.

She makes notes in her head of what she can move and re-arrange. Maybe even replace. Her fingers graze counters, eyes land on the oddities, her skin trying to adjust to the dryness of the air. “And this is your office,” Pa says. He has the mannerisms of his usual spark, but Caitlin knows it is an imitation. Teige, her ‘Da’, stoic as ever, turns away, shoulders slumping, to look out the large window into a meticulously kept courtyard.

“This will do,” Caitlin says, turning away from both, not wanting them to see any more of her sorrow.

Da grabs her arm. “Caitlin. I know, I know you don’t want to be here. I understand.”

There are a thousand words she wants to say to him; words that have been building in her stomach for months. Words that she needs to tell him. She looks at the floor, then back at Da. “You don’t, though.”

Outside, the rain turns to snow.


Whick has just two temples; one for the Order of Muriel, and one for Iden. Eoi, however, has several dozen; multiple Temples for each member of the Tudáe pantheon. It is the towering Temple of Culain, patron god of the Royal House of Fola, that overlooks the market square.

Caitlin had not meant to get so caught up in work that morning, but she did. The last nine months have been day after day of her not meaning to get so caught up, but doing so anyway. And now she must battle a crowd at the market; all of the choice meat and produce long since plucked from the stalls and stowed into bags by the early risers. At least the chill of dawn has left, and it is a pleasantly warm autumn morning.

“Our people are being misled by unholy miscreants who preach idleness and slovenly attitudes,” a priest cries from a dais raised in the center of the market square. “Culain calls upon the people to show their dedication to Him through work, and in doing so, He will bless them with wealth!”

Acolytes of the god surround the dais, all wearing the snow-white robes with high collars and cuffed sleeves that mark them as Culain’s devout, distributing pamphlets to any who catch their eye when walking past. Caitlin lowers the brim of her sun hat, hoping they will not notice her. She has no such luck. “Beautiful lady,” an acolyte says, blocking her path. “Do you know of the grace of Culain?” “I am not interested, thank you.” She tries to get around him.

“But you should be! It is no mistake that King Tarmon and Queen Isleen have chosen Culain as their patron deity. He has rewarded the entire Fola line for their devotion. He ordained and bless their rule.”

“That is all very nice, but I must be getting back to—”

“Please, do take this. Honor Him with hard work and dedication to the righteous path, and he shall grant you all the riches you desire.”

“I have no need for riches, thank you.”

“Are you devoted to a different god??”

“I do not have time for this. I am sorry.”

She elbows past him, ignoring him as he makes one last attempt to engage her.

“How much for a dozen this morning?” She picks up the eggs, examining them for any cracks.

“Five dollars. But if you get two dozen, it’s eight dollars and I’ll throw in a pint of butter.”

Caitlin fishes some coins from her pocket, her mouth a thin line. “They were only two dollars for a dozen three weeks ago.”

“Can’t help it. Lost half my hens and don’t know when I’ll have the means to replace ‘em.”

“I am sorry to hear that.” She hands over the money; there’s a time to haggle, and this isn’t one of them. With her basket now full, she makes for a bench on the outskirts of the square and listens to the gossip.

“Princess Daya’s sibling has disappeared. Do you think there was a fight about…?”

“The prince has taken another lover! Captain Alice Halloran. Yes! The High Admiral’s daughter!”

“…you can’t go to work all beat up like that, especially for the wage you make! There’s a cheap clinic….”

“…The Marquess of Muiris has rejected yet another suitor!”

“But why? Is Lady Amelia hoping the prince will come back to her?”

“…can’t help it, ma, I need to do another day a week at the factory. Can you watch Mal and Lorne or not?”

“King Tarmon has made Sir Connal a count. Apparently, Ambassador Cariveau suggested it…” “Please, miss, do you have a dael to spare?”

Startled out of her reverie, she takes in the disheveled woman in front of her. Clothes no more than rags, deep lines on her forehead, and dark bags under her eyes. Without hesitation, Caitlin hands the woman the last few dael in her purse. The woman thanks her and hurries away.

“What are you doing?” An acolyte approaches her. “That woman does not need help. She needs Culain! Please, you are doing her a disservice by giving her your money.”

“What? She was hungry.”

“We have offered her our services many, many times. She still will not renounce some of her wicked ways, and so she cannot receive our charity. She also refuses to work, another way in which she could honor Culain. You are only enabling her.”

“Wicked ways?”

“You are truly as lost as she is. Please, take this. Our Temple is hosting our weekly worship tomorrow morning. I hope to see you there.”

The follower makes a gesture from his chin to the sky and resumes mingling with the crowd while the priest on the dais continues his proselytizing.

Caitlin has never cared for politics except inasmuch as she must care about taxes and having business paperwork in order. She has never cared for foreign affairs unless it impacted importing and exporting luxury items. And until today, she had never had a firm opinion on religion.

The idea of having a strong enough opinion one way or another seems too strange. She still cannot adjust; adapting to an environment that has frequent enough unrest and more than enough gossip. The unrest here is unlike anything she experienced at home. This is not the brawls that sometimes happen when rivals make port at the same time; a flash of violence and then quite glowering at the tavern. This is something larger and but much more silent. Much more serious. She has never felt this out of her depth before.

She doesn’t have anyone whom she can ask questions; how to live here, how to survive here. Someone she trusts enough to explain life here, what is normal and what is not. Three seasons without laughter at a tavern, lunches on the pier, games of cards with friends. Friends that came and went, and then came again as ships left and returned, and left again. But always friends.


Rains came and went; sweltering dry days passed by, and when the snow came back around, she still did not know how to live in her new residence. Home is a word reserved for a place that is now an old myth, so ephemeral that she is not sure if it ever existed. The entire world changed, and each season is a fresh new set of changes she must adapt to. She didn’t know how to accept spring here, and as soon as she thought she had it figured out, it became summer.

An entire year has passed, and she is still a stranger.

She knew of the protests and riots before coming here, but in the last year, she has had to accept them as part of her life as they have become more frequent, more disruptive, and more violent. She makes her way around the market, a large scarf obscuring her features. She is in no mood to spar with the acolytes of Culain today.

“Businessmen are working their employees to the bone,” she hears someone say behind her.

“They should stop complaining and work harder, as Culain instructs them to.”

“Serfs in the country are being killed by their lords,” an apprentice trader says to his employer.

“They owe a great deal to their lords for allowing them to work those lands. It is as Culain, in His divine wisdom, has ordained it.”

She decides that she does not actually need eggs today, and besides, she needs to hurry home before the sleet comes down even heavier.

“Factory workers are working in dangerous conditions,” an elderly man says.

“If they were truly so dangerous, why would the factory owners allow it? They wouldn’t do that. The workers are just lazy,” a youth replies.

She doesn’t need bread, either.

“There are more and more people begging on the street.”

“They should get a job, not make demands on the sovereign. To work is to be closer to the gods.” She ignores them; these conversations, ignores everything around her, and walks back home.

“My apologies, ma’am!” She bumps into someone, hardly noticing that she drops her basket and everything in it spills into the streets.

“Oh, no, I am at fault. I was not watching where I was going,” she says to the man. He is tall, almost inhumanly so, but thin, and for all that his stature is imposing, he looks like one more inclined towards anxiety than aggression.

“Let me help you,” he says, setting aside his umbrella and placing the bruised produce back in her basket.

Caitlin packs the last of her items back in the basket. “Thank you, sir. I am sorry to have caused you any inconvenience.”

“Let me escort you,” he says, holding the umbrella above her head.

“I couldn’t, possibly. I am almost home, anyway. Just one more block.”

“Oh? You wouldn’t happen to be Miss Peddigree, would you?”

“How—yes, I am.”

“Ah, then we share a destination!” He beams; the smile of a child on the face of a grown man. “Now you simply must let me escort you. After you,” he says.

She allows herself to be escorted home. “How did you know who I am?”

“I asked around. I wanted to make a good impression, so… Some people gave me more information than I asked for.”

“I see,” she says, turning the key and opening the door. “You have business then?”

He stomps the snow off of his boots, sets his wet umbrella on the stand next to the door, and removes his jacket. He looks as though he attempted to dress the part of a businessman, but none of the items match; the seams are worn, and everything is a bit too baggy. The only item that could be considered professional is the golden pin he wears over his heart, a blooming lily. “Yes. I am here on business. Are you purchasing carpentry items?”

“That depends.” She motions to her desk in the corner. “Can you provide me with business credentials? And more specifics of what exactly these items are?”

He chuckles. “And how do I do that?”

“Do you have any paperwork about the wares you sell and what you wish to sell them for? The articles filed for incorporation as a business?” This man does not need to know how little she actually cares for articles of incorporation or permits or any other paperwork at all. She buys from whomever she chooses, from whoever has the best items. But she has learned, in the year that she has now lived here, that purchasing from pirates and brigands is quite frowned upon, and while she could get away with it in Whick, business done in Eoi must at least look official, even when it isn’t. He slouches. “He never tells me these things. I’ll be back, I guess.”

“The weather is only going to get worse. Please, stay at least long enough for it to pass. I have tea or coffee, if you would like.”

“Now it is my turn to decline assistance. I have other pressing business I must still attend to.”

“Before you go, please tell me your name and when I can expect you back.”

“Diarmuid Marr,” he says. “And probably next week.”

“I’ll see you then.”

Marr? She’s heard the name before. An extremely talented craftsman, who is also extremely reclusive. But she was sure that his name was not Diarmuid. A relation maybe? If this was concerning the person she thought it was, though, it would be an excellent stroke of luck for Peddigree Trading, especially if they could make an exclusivity contract. She notices too late that he forgot his umbrella. With no other information about him, though, she must hope he sticks to his word and returns.

A week passes, and then two, and then more. Caitlin forgets about the anxious man as surely as he forgot about his umbrella; sellers who don’t keep their word aren’t worth the space in her mind, no matter the value of their wares. #

The wind outside carries the songs of the protests several miles away, yet loud enough to carry. The doorbell rings in harmony with them as he pushes it open, a worn folder in his hands. “Oh, that’s right. Mr. Marr, I’d thought you wouldn’t return.”

She leads him to her back office for more privacy and gestures for him to take a seat. He runs a finger across the edge of her mahogany desk, laughing to himself. “I hope these are the right papers,” he says.

The papers are dog-eared and, in many places, smudged and torn. She rifles through them, glancing at Diarmuid.

“You are the craftsman, then?”

“No, that would be my father, Seth. He is the owner of the business. I am just his errand boy.”

“These papers will suffice.” Her chest tightens. She does not know what half of these papers even say; she does not care; he has confirmed that she could indeed make a deal with the reclusive but talented craftsman. These papers could say he was a convicted murder and she would not care. To have Marr pieces in their inventory… “What sort of commerce are you looking for?”

“My father can’t sell his furniture, even though it is the best in the city. He wants to sell it at a fair price, but only the nobility and aristocrats can afford it. They come asking, but rarely. He has heard that you have an extensive network, and maybe we could work out an agreement.”

“I see.” She puts the papers back in the folder; there is no point in attempting to read the poor handwriting on the yellowing paper of the few pages that weren’t stained with wood varnish and coffee. “I trust these are handcrafted, then. So, you would like us to purchase some of his stock and sell it abroad? Foreign markets? Or here? Are they all unique? Does he take custom orders?” She tries to speak slowly; letting her excitement get the best of her would not be conducive to sealing this deal. His head droops, and he sighs, rubbing the back of his neck. “Yes?”

“Which one?” She taps her fingers on the table.

“All?” He shifts in the chair.

“Alright.” If she didn’t pity the man, she knew she could swindle him. “Are you authorized to sign contracts? I can have a mediator help draft one up…”

His eyes widen.

“Is there a problem? We can go over all of the details with the mediator. We don’t have to figure out all the details if we get a rough overview…”

“No, no, no. It’s not that.”

She cocks her head to the side. “You aren’t authorized to conduct these sorts of transactions in the paperwork?” She pulls the folder back towards her, flipping through the pages. Again, it matters little to her. It matters very much to the lawyers and judges who are now her neighbors.

“No, the thing is, my father is terrible at this. He barely got the legal part of making a business, and as you can see…” He motions toward the papers and sits back in his chair.

“I see.”

“I’m not even officially an employee,” he says with a chuckle. “I tell him all the time he needs to actually find someone to do the business side of things, but all he wants to do is build.”

“But he ropes you into it?” She laughs. That is how she originally started working in the business.

“Rarely, but when he does, it’s stuff way over my head. I am a physician! I’m not even good with people most of the time. Terrible bedside manner and all. I don’t—”

“I understand, all too well.”

“That’s right, you’re the daughter. I take it you enjoy this though? That’s why you’re still doing it, right?”

“I suppose,” she says. “I’m good at it.”

“Not what I asked. But I won’t pry. Anyway, what do I need to do to get the paperwork legal for you Do you know?”

“It is not hard. If it were not almost dinner, I would call upon our lawyer to help you.”

“And how much does this lawyer charge?”

“She would help you at no cost. I will tell her tomorrow to draw up the paperwork, and then I can bring it by or you could stop over to sign it.”

“That is awfully generous of you. It sounds almost too good to be true.”

“I am not about to swindle you. Do not fear.”

“Speaking of dinner, though, would you like to get some with me? Tonight?”

“Tonight? Well…I have not the faintest idea of where to go, though. I do not get out of my office except on market day.”

“I know just the place, then. Let’s go.”

Their journey to the tavern is cut short by the sound of loud screams and chants.

“No… why are they heading in this direction?”

“A riot or protest?”

He sighs. “You shouldn’t be caught up in it. Can we postpone our dinner until another day?”

“Of course. Will you be alright to make it to your home?”

“Oh, I am going to my clinic. There will probably be injuries among those in the protest. I want to be prepared.”

“You agree with the rioters?”

“Why should I deny medical care to someone based on their beliefs?”

“I see… well, good luck. I shall see you again soon. And this tavern better be worth the wait.” “Oh, the beer certainly is. The food? Not so much. The company? More than worth it.” He winks and sprints away from her with a small wave.

She laughs for the first time since she moved to Eoi over a year ago. She does not make it home before finding herself caught between the rioters turning down her street on one side, and the King’s Shield appearing out of nowhere to flank them on the other.

The sound of metal clashing echoes as she hurries towards home, hoping to make it before the chaos reaches her. She grabs ahold of her skirt tightly and dashes, trying to ignore the yells of the protesters crying for better working conditions and more reasonable rents, trying to ignore the stringent smell of freshly lit torches, trying to ignore the clatter of hoofs as the King’s Shield advances, trying to ignore the taste of blood as she bites her lip in concentration.

She jams her keys into the keyhole, turning it so hard she almost breaks it. Safely inside, without hesitation, she locks the doors, closes the blinds, and goes upstairs to wait, to distract herself, to pretend that the calamity outside is the familiar brawl of two enemy pirate gangs and the colleagues who took bets on the winners. Nevertheless, she keeps glancing down at the protest from the second-floor window.

By now she knows what they do; corral the protesters from all sides, pinning them in. They arrest as many as they can; destroy whatever belongings they have; kick and punch and hit the protesters until they are barely conscious.

She didn’t think she would ever have an opinion on this; it never seemed to be her business. Whatever they were upset about has very little to do with her. But watching the royal guard run their horses over the protesters, swing torches at them, lock them in like this… If this is how terribly the king treats his dissenters, she wonders what he has done to earn their dislike. But she does not want to care about these things. All she wants to concern herself with is if the king has raised taxes on imports.

One by one, foot soldiers grab protesters, forcing them to the ground, and binding their arms behind their backs. Once or twice, as she peers out the window, she swears she sees the insignia of the King’s Shield flash on the hilt of a soldier’s sword. The elite of the elite, selected warriors who are more weapons than human. Some protesters slip away, pulling others behind them, evading the guards and soldiers, and running down allies. There are shopkeepers who surreptitiously pull people inside. There is no keeping count of who escapes and who is taken away in iron and chains.

The afternoon becomes evening, and then twilight. The clash dies down as more protesters either flee or are apprehended. And now it is silent. Burned-out torches discarded, fliers scattered, glass adorning the street.

Diarmuid materializes out of nowhere, limping as he makes his way back and knocks on the door. Why does it feel as though doom is standing there on the other side of the door? She lets him in.

“I’m so sorry about that interruption,” he says, removing his hat. “Do you think it’s too late for dinner?”

“Excuse me? You cannot be serious.” She crosses her arms, eyebrows raised.

“I am quite serious. I’ve attended to all the emergency patients for the evening and now I would like to have a full dinner with good company. Shall we?” He holds out his hand in invitation.

“I suppose I can. You better not be lying about the quality of the beer.” She laughs, hoping it will make the nervous knot in her stomach disappear.

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